‘This is depraved conduct,’ district attorney says of California couple accused of torturing 13 kids
RIVERSIDE COUNTY, Calif. — A California district attorney painted a horrible picture of physical and emotional abuse as he announced torture charges Thursday against a Riverside County couple accused of keeping their 13 children captive and malnourished in their home.
David Turpin, 56, and Louise Turpin, 49, were charged with 12 counts of torture, he said. David Turpin, he said, also was charged with a lewd act on a child by force or fear of duress.
“This is severe, emotional, physical abuse. … This is depraved conduct,” Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said.
Of the victims, Hestrin said: “They’re relieved. … Their health is being looked at. They’re in good hands. As far as where they’re going to end up, I don’t know.”
Other charges include seven counts of abuse of a dependent adult, six counts of child abuse or neglect and 12 counts of false imprisonment. Hestrin did not say whether both suspects face the last three sets of charges.
They were scheduled to appear in court Thursday afternoon for their arraignments, and Hestrin was asking that bail be set at $13 million each. It was not immediately clear whether the Turpins had attorneys. They could face 94 years up to life in prison.
Most of the Turpin children suffered from severe caloric malnutrition, and several have cognitive impairment as a result of abuse, Hestrin said.
Hestrin said he is filing 12 counts of torture, as opposed to one count for each of the 13 children, because the 2-year-old child appears to have been getting enough to eat.
David and Louise Turpin would tie up or chain their offspring as punishment, both the minor children and the adults, Hestrin alleged.
“Punishment would last weeks or even months at a time,” Hestrin said. Evidence, he added, suggests the victims often were not released from their chains to go to the bathroom.
It “started out as neglect” and became severe, pervasive child abuse, Hestrin said.
The torture included beatings and chokings, the DA said.
The children were allowed to write in journals, and hundreds have been taken into evidence.
David and Louise Turpin’s alleged abuse of their children started when they lived in the Fort Worth, Texas, area and intensified when they moved to California in 2010, the prosecutor said. The charges cover alleged acts in Riverside County from 2010 to the present.
Pointing to the children’s malnourishment, Hestrin said that a 12-year-old has the weight of an average 7-year-old, and a 29-year-old daughter weighs 82 pounds.
Besides suffering severe caloric malnutrition associated with muscle wasting, several have cognitive impairment and “neuropathy, which is nerve damage, as a result of this extreme and prolonged physical abuse,” Hestrin said.
The Turpins have been in police custody since Sunday after authorities said they found their children — ranging in age from 2 to 29 — appearing “malnourished and very dirty,” with three of them chained to furniture, at their home in Perris, southeast of Los Angeles.
Teen escaped and called 911, police say
Investigators arrived at the home, they say, after a 17-year-old girl crawled out of a window at the home Sunday morning and called 911 using a deactivated cellphone she had grabbed from the house.
Hestin said Thursday that the 17-year-old had been working on an escape plan with her siblings for more than two years. The girl initially escaped with another sibling, but that sibling became frightened and returned home, he said.
The girl who escaped told officers her parents were holding her 12 siblings captive and showed them photos, the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said.
Investigators found the rest of the Turpins’ children — including seven adults — inside a filthy home, with some shackled to beds with chains and padlocks “in dark and foul-smelling surroundings,” the sheriff’s department said.
The mother was “perplexed as to why” authorities came to her home, Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Greg Fellows said Tuesday.
“If you can imagine being 17 years old and appearing to be a 10-year-old, being chained to a bed, being malnourished and injuries associated with that, I would call that torture,” Fellows said.
The investigation is ongoing, but the conditions of the Turpin children suggest they’ve been held captive for a “prolonged period of time,” Susan von Zabern, director of the Riverside County Department of Public Social Services, told reporters Tuesday.
Parents ‘kept them away from everybody’
Neighbors said the kids were rarely seen outside. Relatives said they were not permitted to see them. The children were home-schooled at their Perris home, which kept them away from the public, other students and teachers.
The family had lived in Perris since 2014.
Those who tried to speak to the children over the years say they were rebuffed.
A neighbor of the Turpins when they lived in Texas told KTVT that the couple “kept them away from everybody.” When that neighbor asked one of the children her name, the girl said they weren’t allowed to tell people their names, according to the TV station.
In 2015, Kimberly Milligan, a neighbor of the Turpins in California, said she was with her son checking out Christmas decorations on nearby homes. Some of the older Turpin children were putting up a Nativity scene outside their house, and she complimented their decorations.
“They just froze,” Milligan recalled. “They immediately shut down.”
They seemed “scared to death,” she said. “You could tell they were terrified.”
Milligan said the children were thin and appeared malnourished.
What could be next for the 13 siblings
The Riverside County Department of Public Social Services is seeking court authorization to provide oversight and care for the 13 siblings “to the extent that’s necessary,” von Zabern said.
“At this point, we’ll be doing a full assessment with medical professionals to better understand needs of the adults as well as the children, and we’ll be prepared to provide supportive services as well as engage other agencies in assisting these individuals to be stable,” she told reporters Tuesday.
When asked if they would go to live with family members, von Zabern said the practice is to identify relatives who are able to provide care, as long as they pass background checks and are suitable and stable. But at the time of the Tuesday press conference, she said no relatives had come forward.
Of the 13 siblings, the adults are being treated at Corona Regional Medical Center in Corona, and the six children are under care at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
“It’s hard to think of them as adults,” Mark Uffer, Corona Regional Medical Center CEO, said Tuesday. “When you see them, they’re small. They’re stable. They’re being fed.”